One summer afternoon at a coffee shop, I sat at a round table with two other college women. Had you walked in, I would have introduced them as “my sisters in Christ.”
Heels and heavy soles thumped on the wooden boards around us. The bean grinder and milk steamer were going full speed behind the counter, but a tight silence hung over our table. I didn’t want to be there, and neither did the sister across from me.
Our friendship had boiled over in frustration that preceding week, and our mutual friend had brought us to the cafe to talk.
I remember this scene keenly for the tension that I felt: I wanted to walk away, but I knew with equal conviction that I couldn’t. If I got up from the chair, my feet would only lead me to another table at another time, because this was my sister, and there was no way to resolve our disagreements without talking to each other. There was no way but through.
In the stage of adulthood I’m in now, escape seems to present itself as a convenient option wherever there is discomfort among believers. I think I could easily fall out of touch with many current friendships by pulling the mother-with-a-family-schedule card. As a person naturally inclined to recharging alone, and one who instinctively recoils at the thought of confrontation, I’m aware of the exit door.
But on the day of the coffee shop talk, such a “way out” didn’t seem a viable choice. Even if I spurned the invitation of our mutual friend, some time that day I was going to face our mutual Father — and what could I say to Him?
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matt. 18:21-22, ESV)
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23-24, ESV)
Even in severe circumstances, “go, and shake your brother and his burdensome issues from your heels” isn’t an avenue He leaves open. J.B. Phillips’ heading for Matt. 18:15-17 is straightforward: “Reconciliation must always be attempted.”
This is a very difficult love.
It is difficult, because we are called by Him to love not only the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and the disabled, but the people who ought to know better: the believers who ask insensitive questions, who make ungrateful demands, who assume far too much about who we are and where we come from, and who give pat answers to our grief. The ones who don’t have much Biblically based theology beyond the gospel, whose kids scare ours, who never return what they borrow. I have been guilty of all of these, and write as one who has seen others cover over the multitude of my sin in love.
Who can bear this kind of tenacious love? And why try?
“We are summoned from the outset to combine as creatures with our Creator, as mortals with immortal, as redeemed sinners with sinless Redeemer. His presence, the interaction between Him and us, must always be the overwhelmingly dominant factor in the life we are to lead within the Body, and any conception of Christian fellowship which does not mean primarily fellowship with Him is out of court.”
– C.S. Lewis, “Membership,” The Weight of Glory, 166.
We belong to Him, and He to us; it is in God that we are family. He is the cause of our connection and the one who enables us to sustain it on His high terms.
We work hard, then, at these relationships, because these are the people with whom we will spend eternity. Very little else will last.
It is a serious thing. . . to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
– C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory, 46.
Lewis goes on to note that if the person in question is our Christian neighbor, “in him also Christ vere latitat–the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
I know that having a real love for and right view of a fellow believer will not always mean that I stay at the coffee table. But it will mean that I must learn to consider her over me — to ask to see her as He does — to be ready to throw my back into the work of forgiveness and Godward authenticity with her. All impossible, except that there is glory at work which I continually underestimate.
In the family of Christ, in the remotest corners of the churches where I’ve been, I’ve witnessed rebellious and surly people enter, and grow into leaders with a kindness and a faithfulness greater than mine. From friends who grieve with hope, from sisters whose grace has made me more aware of the magnitude of God’s mercy, from “little siblings” who have made me beat my head against walls and “older siblings” whom I’ve made to do the same, I am learning how to live and die well. For in them, I’ve seen His glory, and that is what drives me to write all this to you, friends. There is no one more at work in the body of Christ than God Himself.
May we remember Him when we are tempted to walk away from His children.
From a sister grateful that she was kept from leaving the coffee table that day,
This post is part of a 31 day series about Loving God as an Introvert.